The world is finally paying attention to social justice for persons of color.
Worldwide, people are donating their time towards the work of change. However, we are now at a crossroads in the culture.
Hip hop as a culture is always on the front lines of the struggle as its artistic elements are birthed from it. But the culture has been co-opted by persons not of color that do not understand the challenges that birthed it.
That new audience ravenously purchases, streams, and downloads the content globally. Their understanding of the music is mainly surface as it is presented as entertainment.
The narratives are the same: black men who seek to “absolve” themselves of their past criminal actions through music. Women who utilize their natural sexuality and voluptuousness to sell products.
The ghetto report was the definition of hip hop through music, dance, graffiti and more. But if we are on the way to change, will the music permanently reflect the movement and not the negativity of the status quo?
A Necessary News Report?
The commercial rap business is an industry that has an audience teeming with listeners. Those listeners respect lyrics, love a vibe, and seek an escape.
All entertainment allows for an escape from your normalcy and if you do not like your life circumstances, like your job, it provides a release.
However, as the music shifted from the block party scene in the Bronx of the late seventies and eighties so did the subject matter. Drugs flooded the community from South America with the complicity of the U.S. government.
As higher quantities of hard narcotics became available and cheaper derivatives were manufactured for consumption by the poor, the storylines changed.
Communities became ravaged by crack cocaine. People devoid of hope economically began to peddle the toxic substance with regularity. Fathers became incarcerated due to lack of job opportunities. Children grew up fatherless and looked to other traumatized survivors in the community. Some taught those children a wayward outlook on life based on their own traumatic experiences.
From these and more issues plaguing communities of color, the music evolved to reflect their reality. The dope man began to look like a Messiah. The pimp a preacher and the con man a genius.
Anyone that brought home the proverbial bacon earned a reputation as a “boss”. Unfortunately, that was a by any means necessary outlook so how they achieved the funds was of little consequence.
NWA, Wu-Tang Clan, JAY-Z and many more finessed tracks with tales of street life, whether it was their experience or not. The language of the oppressed uses negative terminology like “Nigger” and transforms it into “Nigga”. It transforms a “bitch” into an additional term of endearment as well.
The music reflected the streets and we all enjoyed creatives turning pain into pop culture. It was rap music’s little ironic moment and those who only dreaded stepping into the “hood” could tune in with every album or mixtape release.
The effects were profitable for some but spiritually and mentally disastrous for most. Instead of remembering that the music was fictional or a musical news report, life began to imitate art on many levels.
A Tool For White Supremacy?
As success came, so did the baubles and trinkets. The car names became more flamboyant, the clothes more expensive, and the jewelry outrageous. Some became rich and they took an impoverished mentality with them into global success.
However, it created more turmoil because a false sense of reality was fostered. Now, you aren’t a top creative if you don’t look the part. The audience is so used to posturing that they have forgotten the root goal of hip hop as a healing communication tool.
Now it is just another capitalist commodity to be traded and sold by whoever has the most purchasing power. Brave messages of empowerment have been widely replaced by overtures for retail consideration. Artists act as unofficial pitchmen for luxury brands and lifestyle instead of leaders of thought.
But will this survive now that the world has taken notice of the mistreatment of people of color?
A Closing Salvo
When the protesting is over and the world begins to slowly pick up the pieces, what does the music sound like?
Will it reflect the new reality where all moves are rooted in conscientious thinking? Or, will artists regress and push people back to a space where pacification from luxury material worship is considered self-healing?
African traditions are based in bartering and the exchange of ideas, stories and information are considered valuable.
Hip Hop and rap music are indeed currency and what is counterfeit versus wealth management can be subjective.
However, with the world collectively looking to change the way we approach police brutality, fairness, and systemic racism, we must hold our creatives accountable.
Anyone continuing to perpetuate negative thinking and not advancement should be cancelled. We have all now been raised by the narrative from a place of darkness. Now let’s see how popular these voices are spreading light and action items for the community.
That will be the next true test for the culture.